Nicholson Baker: On Noticing

Something that also taught me how to write that I tell people . . . is to buy a notebook or a spiral-bound book or something and get a ball-point pen of your choice. And sure people say, “You’ve got to carry around a notebook and jot down ideas” and that is OK, and I adapted that by writing on a folded-up piece of paper and carry it around in my pocket – that’s one thing. But this is different; if you’re reading along and you come to something that’s really beautiful, that really stops you in the eye with its prose, you see it’s true, then I’ll stop or make a note to stop later and open the notebook and copy it out, in quotation marks, of course, and write down – copy that out word for word, with full punctuation, in handwriting.

And the reason that’s useful is it slows you down and helps you understand the rhythm of the prose and how a person constructed something that opened up in your mind in just that way. So copying out in a commonplace book interesting bits of writing that you find inspiring or interesting is the only piece of advice I have. It’s the only secret that I have to pass on. I’m not a poet, but copy it out and you will be amazed at how much it helps you almost instantly. Instantly, it makes you a more thoughtful reader and possibly a better writer.

Nicholson Baker’s Best Advice,” Salon, November 26, 2013